I zoomed out on Google Maps, pointing to the green mountain ranges as my children stared, wide-eyed. Click again…again…and again. I had no idea those satellite images of Earth were made available by just a few extra clicks out. On the last click you see the light of the sun shining on our brilliant planet, and on the other side, darkness. There was day and there was night: Google Earth.

These are only photographs. In real life, the water is still waving, the wind is still blowing, the people still moving. There were lights on in the cities and cars on the freeways. Whether in darkness or light, things kept moving.

Self-Care in the Dark

We had our time of darkness: in an out of the hospital, on and off the phone with funeral arrangements. Crises surrounding two kids, one I could cuddle and weep over, one I could only weep over. And things kept moving.

How often I thought and wrote about the actions which sustained me in that time of darkness. Eat fewer chicken strips, order the apple and peanut butter on the hospital tray. Walk far and wide, as much as possible during naptime. Binge-watch less. Read more. Don’t drink. It was the surest way to numb myself so that instead of just feeling the bad, I felt nothing at all. Talk. Learn a new medical word. Wear make-up and earrings. Buy comfortable shoes.

I got so good at self-care because the alternative was a pit of despair. Everyone around me encouraged it. Everyone around me excused it. Since I was no longer functioning bedside it would be okay to leave. Since I couldn’t pass a day without crying, until I slept away from the hospital, it was clear that was better. Self-care worked. It got us through. It made some memories.

Self-Care in the Light

The world turned. Night shifted to day; darkness to light. But self-care still matters. The difference is that now my situation is normal.

Fellow Mind & Spirit contributor Julia Hogan has written a new book, It’s OK to Start With You. In it, Hogan explains that self-care is a discipline that takes effort, made in small steps, a habit gradually built up that revitalizes us, supporting us when crisis hits and sustaining us when we’re just trying to do the thing of living. Many think “indulgence, selfishness, and weakness” when they hear the term “self-care,” but nothing could be further from the truth.

  • It’s not indulgent unless you like waking up at 6 a.m. to exercise or pray or make oatmeal.
  • It’s not selfish because you are making it possible to serve longer or making yourself a better gift to others.
  • It’s not a sign of weakness because it is just good planning. If I live to serve, I’ll do that better if I’m actually alive.

If it is so simple, then why is it so hard? Lack of time, know-how, mixed-up priorities make it hard. What makes it even harder? When we don’t see the point…because we aren’t worth it.

There’s the rub.

It is not just that Person A is putting others before him. It’s that, rather, he does not see himself as worth the time of day. The mind gets unsatisfied and either flits from one task to another without commitment or over-extends himself. The heart seeks affirmation by trying to prove worth either in relationships or work against an inner critic shouting thoughts of worthlessness. Or the body gives up, lazy, tired, listless and stops trying altogether, because why try if he will fail.

I was raised in a habit of action. Do. Do. Do. If there is one ounce of energy, I must be up on my feet using it or I am lazy. To be…is to be useless. And I must be perfect. Thus says the inner critic. But I know better. I just don’t do better.

It’s OK to Start with You

I am chewing on the concepts of It’s OK to Start with You, finding they relate to the conversations I am having about how I try not to berate myself for failing, again(!). Hogan’s writing is so accessible, yet so rich and full of ideas at the same time. She says the same thing but in so many ways I keep finding words that speak to the thoughts in my heart. This book is less than 150 pages but it feels like it has the lessons of a lifetime.

If I sleep well, I am a more cheerful mom and my kids seem to like that. If I read, I de-stress and my mind is still shockingly active, even around toddlers. I know this matters. I just do not know how to implement it. It’s time to try!